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Atletico Ottawa becomes first Canadian Premier League expansion club

The new club, owned by Atletico de Madrid, will begin play in April 2020.

Atletico Ottawa investor Jeff Hunt, Atetico de Madrid CEO Miguel Angel Gil Marin and Canadian Premier League commissioner David Clanachan at TD Place for the unveiling of Atletico Ottawa (Photo Tristan D'Amours)

OTTAWA — It only took the city of Ottawa three months to find a new professional soccer team.

After the demise of the USL’s Fury, Canada’s capital will now be able to cheer on the very first Canadian Premier League expansion club. The name and logo of Atletico Ottawa, owned by Spanish giants Atletico de Madrid, were unveiled at TD Place on Tuesday. The stadium that once hosted the Fury will now be home to what supporters already call “Ottleti.”

CPL commissioner David Clanachan and Atletico CEO Miguel Angel Gil Marin were first introduced by the league’s broadcaster, Spain-based MediaPro. Initially, both parties were not looking to negotiate an expansion team.

“It really just started off as fraternal. Like meeting an older cousin that wants to help you do something,” Clanachan said. “Their whole thing was: ‘Hey, you guys want to bring coaches over and do some development sessions here?’ It was all that kind of stuff.”

When talks about Atletico acquiring the first CPL expansion franchise started, Ottawa wasn’t even in the picture. The Fury were still involved in the market trying to remain in the USL.

Clanachan mentioned that the two parties “were talking about British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Quebec, and even in Toronto” as potential markets. The discussions took a sudden shift when the Fury announced that the club was folding.

“The tagline was: Well you’ve got the capital of Spain, might as well get the capital of Canada, right?” Clanachan said. “Sometimes things just work for a reason, eh?”

Why Canada? 

Asked why Atletico de Madrid chose to invest in a satellite club on Canadian soil, Marin simply said: “Because the country is amazing.” 

Atleti already has ties in North America, having purchased a club in Mexico now known as Atletico San Luis. The club started its life in the Mexican second division and since made its way into Liga MX. Marin has a similar ambition for Atletico Ottawa. 

We are growing the Atletico de Madrid brand and Atletico de San Luis is growing now. The idea is to do something similar here in Canada,” Marin said. “It’s totally different because Mexican football and Canadian football are 100 percent different. I feel that it’s a good opportunity for us and for the CPL to work together and grow Canadian football.” 

Jeff Hunt, who was part of the Fury’s ownership group, will be working with the new franchise.  For him, the announcement will kickstart interest for professional soccer in Canada’s capital. 

“This brand is going to change the way people think about professional soccer a little bit in Ottawa,” Hunt said. “It may attract some people who were maybe not ready to jump on the bandwagon of professional soccer.” 

Tough first year expected

The start of the CPL season is set for April, which gives the team only two months to prepare. Former Toronto FC player Mista was announced as the club’s first head coach but they are currently without players. 

“We had to make the decision in the last two weeks and the two options were to start right now without time or wait one more year,” Marin said.  

He added that Clanachan and Scott Mitchell of Canadian Soccer Business — Canada’s equivalent to Soccer United Marketing — “pressed us to do it right now.” Since the Spaniard believed in the CPL project, they opted for an April 2020 start. 

“The idea is to do our best but this first season will not be easy for sure,” he said. “At the end, I feel that the structure of the competition will allow us to compete.” 

For Hunt, the decision to rush into the 2020 season meant that Ottawa won’t have to grieve over the Fury. 

“I felt like the pulse of professional soccer was still beating in Ottawa a little bit,” he said. “I didn’t want — and neither did Atletico — to let a year go by and completely vanish any sign and almost start all over again.” 

Atletico Ottawa will be able to take advantage of its sister team through the rush. Hunt hinted that the club’s training camp will most likely be held in Madrid. However, the Spain-based ownership feels ready to sacrifice a first season and focus on the long term. Marin said that he wanted for Ottawa to work on a professional side but also work toward academy systems. 

“We will work with girls and boys and the idea is to bring the same methodology of work [than in Madrid],” Marin said. “The idea is to exchange the knowledge with the union of academies around the city. To be part of the development of the kids as persons and players.”  

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